Mozambique authorities should ensure an impartial and transparent investigation into the suspicious death in police custody of Andre Hanekom, a South African businessman, Human Rights Watch said today. Hanekom, who was detained for alleged involvement in armed attacks in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, died on January 23, 2019, at Pemba Provincial hospital, five days after he was transferred from the hospital prison with violent convulsions.
Hanekom’s wife, Francis, told Human Rights Watch that on January 23 friends informed her that Hanekom had died. She went to the hospital, where staff told her that her husband had died after organ failure. She said the hospital staff performed an autopsy without the presence of a family member or representative. On January 29, the newspaper O Pais reported that the Attorney General’s office in Pemba had received the results of the autopsy, but would not share them with the family. A state prosecutor in Pemba declined to confirm this.
“Hanekom’s death in custody raises questions that need a prompt and thorough investigation by the authorities,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should establish the cause of Hanekom’s death and provide the details and autopsy report to his family.”
Hanekom, 62, owned a boat ramp and maritime logistics company in Mozambique’s northern region of Cabo Delgado. According to witnesses and media reports, he was seized by the police on August 1, 2018, after gunmen wearing camouflage uniforms and masks tried to drive him off the road. Friends and family thought Hanekom had been kidnapped. After reporting this to the police, they were informed that the gunmen were police officers and that Hanekom was at Mueda district hospital with gunshot wounds in his left arm and stomach. On August 6, police transferred him to the hospital in Pemba, capital of Cabo Delgado.
On September 11, police moved Hanekom from Pemba hospital to the local police station, where he was kept on suspicion of being connected to armed attacks in the region. He was later transferred to a jail in Mocimboa da Praia district, without appearing before a judge, and a month later police turned him over to army soldiers who kept him incommunicado at a military base in Mueda until mid-January, despite a court ordering him to be released on bail in October.
Although denied contact with his family or lawyers, his wife said he was often able to call her by paying soldiers for access to cellphones. At times, she said, he was kept in solitary confinement while soldiers tried to obtain information from him. She said that when the military eventually transferred him to Pemba maximum security jail on January 14, for the start of his trial, he asked her to fetch a prescription from the prison jail, for persistent pain on his right hip, because the local pharmacy did not have the medicine. She said that the jail staff refused to take the medicine when she delivered it.
On January 18, she took food to her husband just before 3 p.m. The guards told her that he wasn’t feeling well and did not allow her to see him. That evening, the South African High Commissioner to Mozambique, Mandisi Mpahlwa, who had visited Hanekom, told Francis that her husband had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of Pemba Hospital, and that he would arrange for her to visit the next day. She said that Hanekom appeared frail, was semi-unconscious and suffering from hallucinations, blood in urine and lungs, jaundice, and apparent bleeding under the skin.
Francis, a former intensive care unit nurse in South Africa, said she questioned the doctor’s diagnosis of pneumonia because Hanekom had not showed signs of being seriously ill. “I also asked the prison guards about his physical condition, and they told me he was fine,” she said. She believes her husband was poisoned to cover up for abuses in detention that could have been revealed during his trial.
Human Right Watch saw a video she recorded in the hospital on January 21, which shows Hanekom on a hospital bed, connected to various tubes, gasping for air. His skin had several small dark marks and he appeared to have lost significant weight since his arrest, his wife said.
When she visited on the evening of January 22 he appeared better, she said, and his breathing had improved. But he was declared dead the next morning. On January 24, the prison authorities handed over his body to the family. A medical report signed by the physician on duty states that Hanekom died at 4:25 a.m. of “Encephalopathy Hypoxemia” or brain injury from asphyxia.
Hanekom was kept in detention without charges or access to a lawyer since August 1 despite a court order of October 10, from the Palma District Court, ordering his release on bail. A day after the court order was issued, Hanekom’s wife went to the jail but was unable to secure her husband’s release. She saw him being driven away in a car believed to belong to the Mozambican National Criminal Investigation Unit (SERNIC). On October 15, Human Rights Watch contacted a SERNIC spokesman, Leonardo Simbine, seeking an explanation. He promised to investigate and respond with a detailed answer, but to date Human Rights Watch has received no official comment from SERNIC.
“Since he was grabbed and hijacked from the jail in Mocimboa da Praia, I did not know where he was,” Francis said. “He eventually got a phone and called me to tell where he was.” She added that he was at a military base in Mueda; neither Francis, her lawyer, nor court officials were allowed to enter the military zone.
Under Mozambican law, military personnel are prohibited from holding detainees and must hand over suspects detained during military operations to police, who will proceed with arrests and release the suspects or charge them within 48 hours. Mozambique’s constitution says that detainees must be informed upon arrest about accusations against them and the reasons for their detention.
On December 31, five months after Hanekom was arrested, Mozambican prosecutors announced that he and two Tanzanians were among leaders of an armed Islamist group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a and Al-Shabab. They were charged with murder, crimes against the state, and inciting civil disobedience. His wife says the charges were trumped up.
“The Mozambique government should protect the rights of all accused persons,” Mavhinga said. “If anyone acted unlawfully or negligently in connection with the arrest and death of Hanekom, the government should take appropriate legal action to ensure they are brought to justice.”